|Venue: Yas Island, Abu Dhabi Date: Saturday, 24 October|
|Follow live text coverage of the main card on the BBC Sport website and app from 19:00 BST|
Khabib Nurmagomedov will be close to becoming the greatest MMA fighter of all time if he wins at UFC 254, says UFC president Dana White.
The undefeated lightweight champion faces American interim champion Justin Gaethje in a unification bout on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island on Saturday.
Russian Nurmagomedov, 32, has a 28-0 record, while Gaethje, 31, is 22-2.
“Khabib’s a big superstar. But if he beats Justin, he’s on his way to GOAT status,” said White.
“He’s looking down the barrel of not only being the greatest to ever do it in this division but being the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world.”
Nurmagomedov has hinted at retiring if he reaches a 30-0 record and, asked at the pre-fight press conference about achieving the same status as boxing greats Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, he said: “I don’t know if I can ever become close to these people.
“I didn’t have this goal; I just want to win every fight. We’ll see in the future because I’m not finished yet. When I retire, I want to retire [as the] undisputed, undefeated UFC lightweight champion.”
This fight will be Nurmagomedov’s first without his father and coach Abdulmanap in his corner after he died in July, aged 57, following complications caused by coronavirus.
“The most important thing for me is to stay close with your family and friends, because today you’re champion, tomorrow everything can change,” said Nurmagomedov.
“I’m so proud of these things because I think I was a good kid for my parents.”
Asked about an animation paying tribute to his father and charting his journey from wrestling bears as a child, Nurmagomedov said: “A lot of people have sent me the video. It’s a great video – I really like it.”
The most dominant v the most violent?
After beating Dustin Poirier last September, Nurmagomedov was due to face Tony Ferguson in April, but the long-awaited match-up was cancelled for a fifth time because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
Gaethje stepped in to fight Ferguson at UFC 249 and produced the best performance of his career to become the interim lightweight champion.
“I’m not even supposed to be here. This was supposed to be Tony Ferguson,” said Gaethje. “I got that opportunity and I took it from him.
“I’m a performer. I always show up under the lights. That’s what I do. On Saturday I will leave everything, give everything, and be proud of my performance.”
Nurmagomedov is renowned for his wrestling skills, which have stifled and gradually broken down his previous 28 opponents.
Gaethje was an All-American wrestler in college so is confident of defending takedowns, but also possesses devastating punching power, winning his past four fights by knockout.
He has earned nine bonuses from his seven UFC fights – for Performance or Fight of the Night – and UFC has billed this bout as ‘the most dominant versus the most violent’.
“More than Conor (McGregor) and Dustin and other guys, he knows how to wrestle, but what about wrestling for 25 minutes?” asked Nurmagomedov.
“They’re all good when they stand up, but when I grab them it changes a little bit. Even if I try to take him down once and his defence is good, I’ve prepared myself to try to take him down 100 times.”
White added: “You have all the ingredients for a massive fight. You have a big superstar and a kid coming off an incredible win over a highly respected fighter and many people believe that Justin has the style to beat him.
“You think you know what these guys are going to do, but when they get in there anything is possible.”
The co-main event features the top-two middleweight contenders as former champion Robert Whittaker of Australia takes on Jared Cannonier, the veteran American on a three-fight knockout streak.
Two top-10 heavyweights meet as Russia’s Alexander Volkov faces Walt Harris of the US, while London’s Nathaniel Wood has his second bout on Fight Island having beaten John Castaneda on the same card as Whittaker’s win over Liverpool’s Darren Till in July.
Wood, 27, takes on Casey Kenney in a bantamweight contest among the preliminary fights.